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Inspired by Serena, Parks serving up a storm at AO 2024

  • Gill Tan

Alycia Parks’ Australian Open main draw debut is progressing exactly as she envisioned.

DRAW: Australian Open women’s singles

On Friday, the world No.82 will step on court against compatriot and fourth seed Coco Gauff for a career-first showdown that is eagerly anticipated, even according to the 23-year-old.

“I think this is the match that everyone’s been waiting for,” Parks said after toppling 32nd seed Leylah Fernandez in straight sets during the second round. “I think it’s going to be a really good match.”

“Everyone wants to see the matchup… I think it's pretty good to run across her in a slam, third round,” she added. “We're both going to go out there and play our games and see where it goes.”

The confident American failed to make it through AO 2023 qualifying despite being the top seed, but is making up for lost time this fortnight, having reached the round of 32 in singles at a major for the first time in her career.

“It’s pretty exciting because I worked so hard in pre-season, to actually come out here and get the results I’m looking for, it means a lot to me,” said Parks.

At AO 2024, the Atlanta-born player leads the women’s singles field with 23 aces in her first two matches, and, at 197 kilometers per hour, recorded the second-fastest women’s serve behind Gauff.

“My serve is definitely one of my best weapons,” said Parks.

It's perhaps unsurprising then that the American’s biggest inspiration is one of the game’s best servers: Serena Williams, her countrywoman who owns 23 Grand Slam singles titles. 

Parks, who represented the United States earlier this month at the United Cup, has a similar style, swagger and dynamism to Williams. She once even doubled for the star in a Gatorade commercial.

She recalls her idol getting in touch with her and sister Mikayla when they were much younger. 

“I remember getting a call from Serena...I don’t remember exactly what she said, but they were very positive words,” Parks told Tennis Channel.

“Serena made a big difference in their lives by calling,” Parks’ father, Michael, recalled. “They knew they can beat anyone, or they can accomplish anything – she told her to play hard and stay with her goals.”

Williams’ influence extends off court. The right-hander wore a “Queen” necklace from Williams’ jewellery line during the Lyon Open last year, where she captured her maiden WTA title by upsetting top seed and home crowd favourite, Caroline Garcia. 

Parks, who is working with Australian coach Mark Hlawaty, said she watches Williams’ matches “a lot” to learn more of how the seven-time AO champion used to compete.

“I just like to see how she is on the court and in certain situations, if I'm ever in that situation to feed off of that and bring that to my own match,” Parks said.

The 23-year-old said she admires Williams’ ability to remain calm, adding that it’s something she is trying to emulate. “When things are going too fast, she'll actually slow down and rethink her serve…she doesn't rush.”

Alycia Parks celebrates her win over Leylah Fernandez at AO 2024

“I tend to rush a little bit and then usually that's when I start to snowball so I have to slow it down and take it point by point,” Parks added. 

BONUS: Download your copy of the Australian Open 2024 Official Program

Like her idol, the American says she thrives under peak pressure.

“I'm actually better on the bigger courts only because it puts me in a more serious zone,” she said. “I just stay in my own tunnel and focus and see what I can control out there.”

Parks last year told that she was ready to crack the top 10, and reiterated that ambition in a recent interview with the WTA.

If the self-assured right-hander can pull off an upset over Gauff on Friday, she’ll be just one win away from achieving another of her 2024 goals: reaching the second week of a major for the first time.